Marine Cpl. Kelsey DeSantis smiles after winning her MMA fight in October 2011. (Staff)
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Cpl. Kelsey DeSantisand date Justin Timberlake at the opening ceremonies at the Instructor Battalion Marine Corps Ball on Nov. 12, 2012. (Lance Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos / Marines Corps)
Kelsey DeSantis (Courtesy Kelsey DeSantis)
First, she made headlines in 2011 by taking Justin Timberlake to the Marine Corps ball. She did it again when she became a professional mixed martial arts fighter upon leaving the Corps in 2012.
Now, Kelsey DeSantis has her eyes set on winning a beauty pageant.
DeSantis is letting her tough-girl image slide a bit, announcing July 7 via Twitter that she had been selected as a finalist in the Ms. Veteran America competition, a pageant-style contest that aims to highlight “the woman behind the uniform” while raising funds for homeless women veterans.
A veterans advocate who started her own organization, the H.E.L.O. Foundation, to help troops transition into civilian life, DeSantis said she was drawn to the competition by its mission and its commitment to highlighting strong women who served. She signed up to compete earlier this year—and then life threw her a curveball.
“When I committed to Ms. Veteran America, everything was good in my career [as a fighter],” DeSantis said. “Then I found out I’m pregnant.”
DeSantis and her boyfriend Jake are expecting a baby girl in November. Doing the math, DeSantis realized that she’d be almost full-term by the Ms Veteran America final competition. She emailed the organizers explaining her situation and offering to drop out if necessary.
“They wrote me back and said, ‘are you kidding me? this is what we’re all about!’” DeSantis laughed.
For the competition’s regionals near Washington, D.C., DeSantis had to demonstrate a talent; she chose to highlight her fighting skills with a boxing demonstration, showcased in a humorous skit with some assists from a friend and fellow Marine vet.
“We had all the judges laughing,” she said.
At the finals in Leesburg, Va., DeSantis said she’d do another boxing demonstration as well as a panel interview, for which she’d be judged for the content and delivery of her responses. That part would come naturally, she said.
“Ever since I got out, I realized that it’s a part of me to continue a life of service,” she said. “It’s become a part of who I am and what I want to do. I guess I speak form the heart.”
Following the competition, DeSantis said she’s looking forward to entering her life’s next adventure: motherhood.
“My boyfriend Jake really wanted a boy,” she said, of first finding out they were expecting. “I told him, ‘either way, she’s going to be a fighter.’”